Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A book at bedtime? Not Tonight, Darling (1971)

This slight tale rests entirely on the idea that any husband would rather read a law textbook at night than flick through the pages with a lovely wife played by Luan Peters. Any student of the period would find this difficult to comprehend and begin to wonder whether this guy had it coming all a long. One of the writers is listed as a “James Pillock” after all…. A clear sign of artistic endeavour thwarted by budgetary constraints and a production company more interested in their sexed up export possibilities and the generosity of the Edie Levy.

This feels like one of those shandy pornos in which proper actors cover the drama and experts are brought in for the sexual content (there are a number of “Speciality Guests”, allegedly from New York… although that sounds fanciful given the funding). If it is, most of the beer has been removed leaving only the frothy lemonade of the “story”. Still when one of those performers is the lovely Luan and there are extensive scenes in a grocery store – I love the brands of yesteryear! – there’s some benefit to be had.

Bedroom action
Luan plays Karen Williams, mother of Gary and long-suffering wife to John (the appropriately wooden Jason Twelvetrees). If Luan’s the one you’re looking for you’re rewarded with the sight of her stripping and climbing into the bath within the first few minutes.

This early success is soon undermined as the story hobbles forward and not just those parts indicative of the couple’s stolid home life which is expressed through bathroom optimism and bedroom pessimism and that awkward kitchen silence hanging between Mr and Mrs Williams… He’s happy with his books and work and assumes that she’s happy with their son and security.

But Karen wants more from him… at least initially. But John’s a cold public-school man who thinks he’s done his bit for family and can now concentrate on his self-serving career.

Vincent Ball and Sean Barry-Weske
Karen attracts attention on her regular trips to the supermarket – especially from a salesman Alex (Vincent Ball) and the local Peeping Tom, Eddie (Sean Barry-Weske) who have a bet on whether the silver-tongued charmer can get her to wander away from the marital bed. Eddie maintains a regular watch on Karen’s bathroom at night in the hope that she’ll show him a glimpse of something shocking but he’s normally only ever rewarded with her nightshirt-clad wandering – restless having failed to get John away from his tax research.

Karen goes for a drink with her mate Joan (Nicki Howorth) and spots Alex in the same pub… before you know it he’s whisked her off to go and watch Thunderclap Newman – yes them, “hey, look watch that sound…” – rehearse in a club. Maybe they we’re just free that day?

Catching the 'clap in rehearsal...
Anyway… all this thoughtfulness is winning Karen over, and before you can say “here Eddie, hand over that fiver” the couple find themselves in Alex’ travellers hotel: his bachelor pad-from-pad where he uses his modern jazz records to seduce the unfulfilled and the distracted.

The deed is done… and Karen feels nothing of it until signs begin to show that Alex is intent on leveraging the “situation for his further gain… sending her copies of photographs taken during their illicit meeting.

Joan and Karen at the swinger's do...
Things get worse when she is lured back to his flat and coerced into a swingers’ party which includes her pal Joan – crikey; they’re all at it!

Spoilers: Naturally events catch up with Karen when hubby is dragged to a gentlemen’s club by a client - a nice turn by Bill Shine as old duffer, Captain Harrison - where he is astonished to find his wife “acting” in a stag movie. Like all good public school-educated boy he is appalled at Karen’s infidelity and all stroppy-heck breaks lose.

Not the movie he was expecting
The closing moments see them casting glances across the bonfire at their son’s party: is there a reconciliation ahead or should Karen just head for the hills anyway? It’s nice and open in a mature way, a hint of what the film could have been.

Dusty Verdict: Not Tonight… is not a good film in many respects, darling, but it is worth watching for the period details and for a decent performance by Luan Peters who could easily have handled a better script and fuller characters around her.

It’s directed by Anthony Sloman who went on to become a noted film commentator and a fellow of the BFI.

Luan alone
There’s also a treat on the musical front as the jazzy, up-beat score was written by Denis King later to feature alongside John Junkin, Tim Brook-Taylor and Barry Cryer in classic radio comedy Hello Cheeky (which even made it to TV and provided two still-current panellists for I’m Sorry I haven’t Got a Clue…). Denis’ score is accomplished and likeable, adding some everyday warmth where plot and performance sometimes is lacking.

Availability-wise, the film seems to be quite deep undercover although it has been shown recently on Talking Pictures.

Trivia: Luan Peters apparently has a fine singing voice and she briefly replaced singer Tina Charles when she left the pop group 5000 Volts to go solo!

Hard to knock this for seventies supermarket fantasy

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Birds and Mr McB… The Beguiled (1971)

Clint Eastwood, one of a handful of humans who are known – by most over a certain age - solely from their Christian name. This film is from a time when that brand was narrower than it has come to be today for a man with significant gifts as a director as well as a performer. Back in 1971 Mr Eastwood was only just stepping out of the spaghetti sauce and this represented a departure from his normal, unequivocal, repertoire. It was, he said, "an opportunity to play true emotions and not totally operatic and not lighting cannons with cigars".

From memory – I haven’t seen this for a long time – I had Clint’s character, Corporal John McBurney, as primarily a good guy: a Yankee soldier rescued from fatal injury and capture by a school of southern gentlewomen. But things are not so clear and The Beguiled weaves a delicate path between our expectations as the convalescing captive wages a war of charm and connivance against his ostensibly nursing captors…

Southern gothic
The school in question is draped in gothic Mississippi foliage – vines hanging heavy from exhausted trees beaten down by relentless moist sunlight and with the rich soggy earth pulling hard at their roots. So it is with the people and not just those fighting the war… there’s fear and longing holding these people down and Mr McBurney promises a release for some just as his own freedom is curtailed.

The film opens with stills of the Civil War, most posed maybe some real and then cuts to a young girl Amy (the excellent Pamelyn Ferdin) searching for mushrooms in a dense wood. She finds the wounded McBurney who distracts her with a – shocking – kiss on the mouth so she will hide him from Confederate soldiers.

Mr McB and Amy
Amy helps “Mr McB” to her school where he is greeted suspiciously by the head teacher, Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page) and most of the pupils with the exception of Carol (Jo Ann Harris) who, it has to be said, is old beyond her years. This is war and the girls are daughters of Confederate men, Carol (Darleen Carr), is particularly opposed to this Yankee even if he is half-dead.

But Miss Farnsworth shows him mercy: he can’t be given over as a prisoner in such a weak condition, he would surely die. They plan to get him well and then hand him over… and McBurney isn’t going to dissuade them.

Geraldine Page and Clint
Locked in a room with hastily-boarded windows, John begins his recovery and gradually gets to know the characters at the school. Amy is still very young and keeps a pet crow and tortoise for company whilst there’s a pretty teacher Edwina Dabney (Elizabeth Hartman) who has clearly taken refuge herself from the wanton cruelty of Man. John takes a shine but you’re far from convinced of his true feelings at this point: he’s a man on a survival mission deep in enemy territory even if they are wearing petticoats.

A close-shave with Mae Mercer
Perhaps the only actual mature woman at the school is the servant, Hallie (singer-turned-actress Mae Mercer) who isn’t going to be fooled by his soft-soap for a second. Miss Farnsworth is on the cusp of middle age and has, it turns out, plenty of transgressive experience of her own as the film slowly reveals. Underneath her disciplined, leader persona beats the heart of a woman who has loved and lost with her heartbreak magnified by the fact her lover was her brother.

Darleen Carr (second left) is outspoken
Her motivations for wanting to nurse McBurney are conflicted from the start but she is far from alone. Broken angel, Edwina, very much Miss Farnsworth’s protégé, feels the stirrings of passion she had so long denied but is Yankee John merely leading her and everyone else along.
As his recovery progresses, he starts to dominate the school and the thoughts of the three women and one girl who have feelings for him.

Elizabeth Hartman
The fateful moment comes when he has to decide which room to visit after dark: Miss Farnsworth, door unlocked, is busily dreaming of him and – another transgression, Edwina, sharing her bed whilst it looks as though he is heading towards the younger teacher until, he is ambushed on the stairs by the most-forward, Carol – anxious to blackmail her way to an amorous adventure.

He makes the wrong choice, the only one he can make, and events begin to spin out of control as all kinds of passion explodes within formerly gentile countenance.

Jo Ann Harris
Dusty verdict: This is a haunting film of dense, mystical atmospheres that exist on the very edges of the civil slaughter. The characters are real and all a mix of sympathetic and devious when the moment takes.

Don Siegel directs with the assurance you'd expect and there’s sumptuous cinematography from Bruce Surtees and a lush score from Lalo Schifrin – as dense as the woods suffocating the school.

The performances are outstanding especially Geraldine Page as the conflicted headmistress hiding from her own desires.

Clint Eastwood
Eastwood is perhaps the most revelatory; playing perhaps with our perception that he will be the hero in the end. He lies about his involvement in the war, claiming to be a conscientious objector tending inly to the wounded on the battlefield while flashbacks show his deadly acts of war. But it was war and there were no good and bad guys, just those who got lost…